Hardware & Peripherals Most Commonly Used In Virtual Reality Systems Essay Examples
Trying to define virtual reality one only needs to break down the term to its components: virtual and reality. Virtual means almost or near and reality is what people experience in their everyday lives. Therefore, the term virtual reality, in fact, means almost reality, which, of course, could be translated into practically everything, but it is, usually, associated with a particular type of imitation. According to NASA, virtual reality means “to have the effect of concrete existence without actually having concrete existence” (NASA, n.d). To them, there is nothing obliging virtual reality to match the real world and they consider virtual reality the use of computer technology to generate a three-dimensional interactive world, where objects have a three-dimensional location, independent of the user’s actual position. It is a mind game that forces the brain to interpret the cues presented to one’s cognitive system as objects in the three-dimensional world (NASA, n.d). With the use of simple computer graphics a virtual world becomes alive, allowing the user to either immerse in this computerized new world, or become part of this environment and just work with/manipulate things, rather than images of things (NASA, n.d).
Virtual reality is a multi-sensory experience that uses video, sound, and images to stimulate the person and make them feel within a virtual reality environment, while new environments also use a haptic device (e.g. data gloves), which will be further discussed at a later section of this paper, to further improve the overall experience, by including force and touch feedback. Virtual reality has several applications, ranging from medicine and architecture to sport, arts, music, training of armed forces, and entertainment that can significantly help enhance the quality of people’s lives. For example, virtual reality in medicine allows next generation surgeons to have proper training through surgical simulations (Henriksen et.al, 2005). As for the armed forces, virtual reality is used to recruit soldiers, train them, and improve their skills, as well as helping them deal (and treat) their psychological disorders (e.g. PTSD-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), which is why the military funds technical expertise to computer developers (Shaban, 2013). However, the applications of virtual reality will be thoroughly discussed later on.
In a virtual reality environment, the person wears either glasses or a head-mounted display that displays three-dimensional images to them, as a means to provide the appropriate responses in real time, while the person explores the virtual environment.
Head-Mounted Display (HMD)
A Head-Mounted Display (HMD) is a computer display, usually mounted in a set if googles or a helmet, that the person wears on their head. Head-mounted displays are designed to allow their user to have a Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) monitor always staying in front of their eyes, regardless of the direction they might be looking (Ulanoff, 2014). Most head-mounted displays create a sense of depth for the images a user looks, by having a screen for each eye. The older versions of HMDs has Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) displays that were bulky, more expensive and heavy, and required the user wore a suspension mechanism to offset the extra weight (limiting the user’s movement and sense of immersion) than LCD displays, but had a much better screen resolution and brightness. Apple has patented a ski-goggle-like head-mounted display that is more aesthetically appealing than its adversarial Oculus VR. Its users can wear it and privately view media provided, feeling like they are not looking at a video screen, rather than another world (Ulanoff, 2014).
That said; there are other display technologies that engineers are not that fond of to use in HMDs, such as Fiber-Optics Displays, Electrophoretic Displays, and Plasma Displays, mainly because of their limited brightness and resolution, while some are not able to produce nothing more than monochromatic images or are too expensive. Finally, some HMDs also include headphones or speakers, making the experience even more real, by providing the user the opportunity to have both audio and video output. In addition, head-mounted displays are, usually, tethered to the CPU’s VR system, or are even wireless (Stickland, n.d).
Digital gloves are believed to be the wonder inventions that has helped numerous deaf people communicate with the world. In fact, they have every right to be considered miraculous, given that thanks to their sophisticated technology, they are built-in with a micro-controller and flex controls, be connected to a smartphone and send signals to the smartphone through Bluetooth that can be turned into words and voice (Olson, 2012). Enable Talk, as they were named, capture sign gestures and turn them into phrases. They are the creation of more than 20 Ukraine programmers working together for about a year with a shared goal: to change the way deaf people communicate with others around them. No wonder they won first prize ($25,000) from Microsoft, in 2012. At first, the gloves were able to say simple phrases, such as “Nice to meet you”, among a dozen more sign-language phrases; however, the team is dedicated to making them say much more than that. The software has unlimited potential as per the number of gestures it can interpret into words, and the team is devoted to working with those speaking the sign-language, as it is rather challenging to bridge the gap between computer codes and signs, in order to make the virtual gloves effective (Olson, 2012).
Virtual Reality Displays
The CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) system is believed to be the ultimate virtual environment, by many people. It is a development of researchers and students at the University of Illinois, and comprises of a small cubicle or room with at least three active walls, paired, sometimes, by a ceiling and a floor. The display in CAVE allows the user to have a wide field of view, unlike most HMDs. Moreover, users can move around, without having to be attached to a computer; however, the do need to wear a pair of googles, much like the three-dimensional glasses people wear when watching a three-dimensional movie. The walls are rear-projection screens, connected to a computer that creates a unified virtual environment via the images it projects in stereoscopic format on each screen. The googles the user wears can create illusions of depth by having shutters in the lenses that open and close and are synchronized with alternative images (Stickland, n.d). As the user walks around this virtual environment, the computer received messages from the glass-attached tracking devices and adjust the images.
Haptic Devices or Haptic Interfaces are defined as “mechanical devices that mediate communication between the user and the computer” (Berkley, 2003, pp. 2). Haptic devices give users the opportunity to feel, touch, and manipulate three-dimensional objects in tele-operated systems or virtual environments. The older devices (e.g. mice and joysticks) were only input devices, which means they provided manual feedback and allowed one-direction information flow. Haptic devices (e.g. consumer peripheral devices, such as force feedback steering wheels with special sensors and motors) are both input and output devices that can track a user’s manipulations and provide them with on-screen events that look and feel like real. Other haptic devices are more sophisticated and are used in medicine, science, or for industrial use (Berkley, 2003).
Applications of Virtual Reality
Besides gaming, virtual reality has a variety of applications, some of which are as followed:
Therapy for Stroke Victims & Amputees
Virtual reality systems help people that have lost an extremity (an arm or a leg) and are experiencing severe sensations called phantom limb pain. It has been reported that people missing an arm, have noticed a significant reduction in the pain they were experiencing after participating in an experimental treatment that allowed the muscle of the amputated limb to send signals to a virtual limb (Gannon, 2014). Moreover, virtual reality could provide considerable assistance to those that have lost function of their arm after experiencing a stroke. A study conducted in 2011 shown that people that have experienced a stroke and were playing virtual games had increased chances to regain some significant portion of their arm’s strength back, than if they had gone through physical therapy (Gannon, 2014).
View of the Inner Working of One’s Body
Doctors and scientists seems very pleased with the opportunity presented to them through virtual simulations. Now, they can actually see the working of the human body from up close via the so-called glass brain that computational neuroscientists demonstrated at the Southwest Interactive festival, in Texas, on March, 2014. They used as set of Oculus Rift googles that allowed users to see the entire activity of the brain, in real time, while the user was wearing a cap with electroencephalogram electrodes attached to it (Gammon, 2014). Computer scientists were even able to create a virtual reality three-dimensional childbirth simulator model, taking into consideration the patient’s anatomy, the baby’s position inside the womb, the forces applied by the cervix, and muscles of the woman’s abdomen, and the doctor. It is believed that such simulations will help doctors prepare for risky births and provide them with the ability to make the right decisions in difficult pregnancies (Gammon, 2014).
Therapy sessions that include virtual simulations of the battlefield are perceived to have a therapeutic effect on military service members suffering from PTSD after they had a traumatic battlefield-related experience. They used virtual reality headsets that brought forward all memories from battlefields, such as Afghanistan and Iraq and simulated the fears related to these battlefields. Soldiers suffering PTSD have reported a reduction in their symptoms, after their virtual simulation experience (Gannon, 2014).
Virtual reality simulators have been widely used to train soldiers (all services included-air, navy, & army) worldwide, before they get deployed. Becoming familiar with combat (or other dangerous) situation before they even experience them in real life gives an advantage to soldiers that learn how to react, without risking a serious injury or even death. There are many scenarios to choose from and one has can re-enact a specific scenario, if they so wish. It is considered a more cost-effective training option, compared to the traditional training methods used. Besides battlefield simulation, the military uses virtual reality to simulate experiences with flights and vehicles, battlefield medic training and a boot camp (Virtual Reality, n.d).
Soldiers are provided with a HMD, built-in with a tracking system, and a pair of data gloves that allow them to interact with the virtual environment. Sometimes, they are given virtual reality glasses that create a depth illusion through three-dimensional images. Although the military stress that virtual reality will never replace real-life training, it is the closest and safer they got, as of now (Virtual Reality, n.d).
Virtual reality is also used for learning and teaching purposes and allows students to interact with one another and within three-dimensional environments. Virtual reality can present a complex phenomenon in a rather simplified way that the students find attractive, fun, and easy to learn, while they can also interact with the objects inside the virtual environment and learn even more about what is been taught to them (Virtual Reality, n.d).
Set aside that, astronomy students find virtual reality particularly appealing as it allows them to explore the solar system and interact with the planets, comets, and stars within the virtual environment. Moreover, it makes it easier for them to comprehend abstract concepts, as they are provided with an opportunity to see how they work in a three dimensional environment. After all, today’s children are all tech-savvy, given that they have been born in a world where technology and its wonders are everywhere. Therefore, virtual reality is an effective means to learn more than, perhaps, when reading a book.
Science fiction movies use a lot of virtual reality, especially nowadays, in order to make the audience believe something is real, when, in fact, it is totally fantastical. One of the first movies that used virtual reality for that purpose was TRON: Legacy, whose main characters were transported from reality into the inside of a computer. Although it is not what people would call a virtual reality as defined earlier on, the concept of the movie is still of another reality, only inside of a computer. The Matrix is another movie with the same concept that took its stars living in a virtual world inside a computer’s software.
Construction & Engineering
Simulated construction has proven extremely helpful, considering the low profit margins and high inefficiency amount. With virtual reality, an organisation can experience the structure they want constructed in a three dimensional representation, virtually exploring the design and testing numerous factors without being burdened by the building costs and time spent to construct the building. This helps reduce the errors in the completed structure. Simulated construction provides organisations the time to fine-tune a building for max efficiency.
In engineering, using visualisation techniques and three dimensional model tools enables engineers to view their project in three dimensions and identify any weknesses (thus avoid potential risks and hazards) or understand better how it works, before they proceed to implementing their design, saving all money and time. Virtual reality engineering is employed by car manufacturers and rail manufacturers (e.g. Balfour Beatty Rail), among others. The JLR Virtual Reality Cenre is a fine example of state of art virtual reality.
Besides soldiers that are trained before deployment, athletes can also train using virtual reality. They can measure their athletic performances and analyse the techniques used, to identify flaws and improve. For example, a cyclist can improve specific aspects of their performance, for example going faster. With the three dimensional systems, they can identify aspects of their performance that are in need of a change (e.g. biomechanics) To enhance the overall experience, virtual reality in sports comes with clothing and other sports equipment design.
Moreover, virtual reality can bring sports closer to people, especially children or those that do not have much a physical activity within the day (e.g. Wii Sports gaming console). Also, it is used to design sporting equipment and clothing (e.g. running shoes).
Drawbacks of Virtual Reality
Virtual environment and virtual reality come with some ethical and social issues. For example, there are concerns in regards desensitisation. Does a person playing extremely violent games in a virtual reality, or a soldier being trained in virtual scenarios that include killing, run the risk of being affected by these severely violent acts and behaviours and lose their compassion for the sake of the adrenaline rush? Also, are those addicted to virtual reality games able to tell virtual reality from the real world? What about motion sickness? How can that be handled? Also, it may require special training to operate specialised gloves and boots, or other HMDs. Moreover, the virtual world is limited to a confined space, and when not confined, it could be dangerous to navigate the non-virtual environment without external sensory information. Plus, its set up is expensive.
Virtual reality is giant that can be either helpful or dangerous, depending on one’s use. It is a great tool to a large variety of industries and has helped many people live a better life, know more, and become more efficient in their roles. However, there are risks involved that should also be taken into consideration, and, of course, it requires responsible use, to be able to reap the many benefits virtual reality has to offer mankind.
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Henriksen et.al, 2005. The Use of Surgical Simulators to Reduce Errors. In Advances in Patient Safety: From Research to Implementation (Volume 4: Programs, Tools, and Products). PMID: 21250030.
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Olson, Parmy, 2012. The Amazing Digital Gloves That Give Voice To The Voiceless. Available through: Forbes website <http://www.forbes.com/sites/parmyolson/2012/07/16/the-amazing-digital-gloves-that-give-voice-to-the-voiceless/2/> [Assessed 22. January 2015].
Shaban, Hamza, 2013. Playing War: How the Military Uses Video Games. Available through: The Atlantic website <http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/10/playing-war-how-the-military-uses-video-games/280486/> [Assessed 22. January 2015].
Ulanoff, Lance, 2014. Apple Patents Head-Mounted Display. Available through: Mashable website <http://mashable.com/2014/04/29/apple-head-mounted-display/> [Assessed 22. January 2015].
Virtual Reality, n.d. Applications of Virtual Reality. Available through: Virtual Reality website <http://www.vrs.org.uk/virtual-reality-applications/index.html> [Assessed 22 January, 2015].